Home

A Lame-Duck Fight Over Yucca Mountain

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Harry Reid's longtime opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository appears set to have one of the last quacks in the lame duck, and Republicans are crying foul.  

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, slammed President’s Obama’s nomination of Jeffery M. Baran to a full five-year term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and pointed to the Democratic leader's longtime efforts on Yucca.  

The Nevada Democrat “strongly supports Baran, likely due to the role he is expected to play in continuing to undermine the Yucca Mountain project, a nuclear repository in a secluded region of Nevada,” Vitter said in a press release.  

“Baran’s nomination increases the likelihood that Stephen Burns…could be nominated to be the new NRC Chairman,” he said.  

The president designates the chairman of the five-person commission. Vitter’s comments come after current chairwoman Allison M. Macfarlane announced in October that she would resign.  

Burns was previously the chief counsel to former NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko “who was forced out of office due to his failed leadership,” Vitter said.  

Jaczko is a former Reid staffer and staunch Yucca opponent whom Reid helped install at the NRC. Reid used every tool in the box, including a blanket hold on President George W. Bush’s nominees, to get Jaczko on the NRC.  

Jaczko resigned from the agency in 2012 after months in which he battled accusations by the four other commissioners of the bipartisan agency of having a heavy-handed management style. That style, his detractors contend, disrupted the NRC’s ability to complete its nuclear safety mission.  

Both Baran, a former aide to liberal stalwart Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Burns were confirmed in September, but Baran’s nomination was to fill a term expiring June 30. Burns’ was a full term that lasts through June 30, 2019.  

Vitter, who opposed Baran’s initial confirmation in September, reiterated his concerns that he is unqualified.  

“The President’s nominee to ensure the safety and success of our nuclear future visited a nuclear facility for the first time in his life this summer,” Vitter said. “It is vital to the security and reliability of our nation's energy needs for the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be independent, thoughtful, and highly qualified. Baran clearly lacks that experience, and we need to hold a full EPW committee hearing.”  

Baran's confirmation would be much harder next year after Republicans take control of the Senate. His earlier nomination was confirmed 56-44 in September, before Republicans won control of the chamber in the midterm elections.  

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.